Curvature dependence of the effect of ionic functionalization on the attraction among nanoparticles in dispersion

BS Jabes and D Bratko and A Luzar, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 148, 222815 (2018).

DOI: 10.1063/1.5017525

Solubilization of nanoparticles facilitates nanomaterial processing and enables new applications. An effective method to improve dispersibility in water is provided by ionic functionalization. We explore how the necessary extent of functionalization depends on the particle geometry. Using molecular dynamics/umbrella sampling simulations, we determine the effect of the solute curvature on solvent-averaged interactions among ionizing graphitic nanoparticles in aqueous dispersion. We tune the hydrophilicity of molecular-brush coated fullerenes, carbon nanotubes, and graphane platelets by gradually replacing a fraction of the methyl end groups of the alkyl coating by the ionizing -COOK or -NH3Cl groups. To assess the change in nanoparticles' dispersibility in water, we determine the potential-of-mean-force profiles at varied degrees of ionization. When the coating comprises only propyl groups, the attraction between the hydrophobic particles intensifies from spherical to cylindrical to planar geometry. This is explained by the increasing fraction of surface groups that can be brought into contact and the reduced access to water molecules, both following the above sequence. When ionic groups are added, however, the dispersibility increases in the opposite order, with the biggest effect in the planar geometry and the smallest in the spherical geometry. These results highlight the important role of geometry in nanoparticle solubilization by ionic functionalities, with about twice higher threshold surface charge necessary to stabilize a dispersion of spherical than planar particles. At 25%-50% ionization, the potential of mean force reaches a plateau because of the counterion condensation and saturated brush hydration. Moreover, the increase in the fraction of ionic groups can weaken the repulsion through counterion correlations between adjacent nanoparticles. High degrees of ionization and concomitant ionic screening gradually reduce the differences among surface interactions in distinct geometries until an essentially curvature-independent dispersion environment is created. Insights into tuning nanoparticle interactions can guide the synthesis of a broad class of nonpolar nanoparticles, where solubility is achieved by ionic functionalization. Published by AIP Publishing.

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